The first quarter of 2020 ended with a total of 407 Israeli Gaza ceasefire violations, to which the Palestinian Resistance responded with 59 of their own. From January to March, six Palestinians died in Gaza as a result of Israeli aggression and there were 66 Israeli air strikes on the enclave. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli Army population control and Occupation settler violence increased. Palestinians endured ever more raids, destruction of homes, home invasions and crippling acts of agricultural and economic sabotage.
Thanks to US President Donald Trump, funding to UNWRA has been cut, many schools in Palestine have been forced to close and public health is under ever greater threat. The Israeli Occupation is enabling the spread of Covid-19 in the West Bank with Israeli bulldozers countering attempts to set up isolation tents and clinics. While Israel prevents the setting up of clinics for Palestinians in the land it militarily Occupies, fanatical Israeli settlers are encouraged to build settlements and seize increasingly more land, while attacking Palestinian farmers and ruining their crops.
Reports of Israeli violence in the first two days of April offered little sign of any let up. Those two days saw yet another Israeli Army Gaza incursion, the Israeli Navy continued to pursue and open fire on Palestinian fishing boats and, as always, Palestinian farmland came under fire from Israeli Army position behind the Green Line. Israel also committed another six Gaza ceasefire violations during April 1 and 2. In just those first two days of April, Israeli forces seized a villager’s mobile home, bulldozed a Palestinian olive grove and opened fire on Covid-19 emergency workers who were checking the risk of any virus spread. Israeli troops invaded and robbed a Palestinian Minister in his home and an armed Occupation settler threatened Palestinian shepherds. The behaviour of raiding settler militants also spread fear of Covid-19 infection among Palestinian villagers. There were the usual Israeli Army night home invasions in a UN refugee camp as well as in five Palestinian towns and villages. One Palestinian died from serious wounds in Nablus, another was beaten and injured by Israeli police and there were 11 Israeli acts of agricultural/economic sabotage against Palestinians. Finally, three young Palestinians, aged 15 to 17, were abducted, at night, by Israeli soldiers.
As a shocked and reeling world faces and combats the onset of the unprecedented Covid-19 viral pandemic, we are all having to face a reality that has been a scourge for Palestinians both now – and for over five decades! We, too, are now having a taste of what it is like to be confined to our homes and denied freedom of movement. Of course, for Palestinians this results from brutal foreign military dictatorship. The callous Israeli regime is maintaining its discriminatory rule, regardless of the new health-threatening environment, deliberately heightening the level of fear and insecurity for the people of Palestine.
Covid-19 has arrived in Gaza where, with an undermined and weakened health system, nearly two million people have, for 13 years, struggled to survive under an Israeli-imposed land, air and sea blockade in one of the world’s most densely populated regions. In 2012, the UN predicted that Gaza would be uninhabitable by 2020. The need to demand that Israel put an end to this blockade is unarguably urgent. Why the silence and inaction?
In the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Army continues to suppress Palestinians, destroying their homes and displacing families. Late last month it destroyed a clinic under construction, along with water pipelines and solar panels needed to provide urgently-needed treatment. Israeli forces distribute destruction orders on homes, not only in the West Bank and East Jerusalem but also on those belonging to Bedouin citizens of Israel in the Negev/Naqab.
Daily news reports from Occupied Palestine reveal a mounting increase in the number and severity of Jewish settler attacks on Palestinian homes, agriculture and livelihoods, often with Israeli Army complicity. Just in the last few days, the process towards annexation of the Jordan Valley has seen three more settlement outposts established there. Towards the end of March, the Israeli Government approved the construction of yet more settlement units, in violation of international law, in other West Bank areas.
As we fight the deadly virus sweeping around the world, awareness of our shared humanity ought to become paramount. The international complicity of governments that have allowed, and even assisted, Israel’s settler-colonialism to continue should be denounced as intolerable. The Fourth Geneva Convention places an incontrovertible duty upon Israel to protect the indigenous Palestinian population whose land it Occupies. The destruction of people’s homes, displacement of population and seizure of land are not just inhuman, they are war crimes. Israel is obliged, under international law, to afford full and necessary access to health care for the Occupied and blockaded Gaza population. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination‘s latest report recognises that Israel has imposed legislation that discriminate against Palestinian. An appeal by the Israeli NGO, Zochrot, reminds us that “Covid-19 is a fresh wake up call for us to address the rooted problems and historical yet continuous injustices that underlie our political system. We know from history that the poor and oppressed bear the brunt of epidemics and disasters, and thus the danger of this virus for Palestinians is of grave concern.”
On 22 March, the Palestine Solidarity Network Aotearoa sent a letter to the Prime Minister urging our own Government to take effective political action to back up its annual votes at the UN for Israel to end both its military rule over West Bank Palestinians and its blockade of Gaza. The only acknowledgement of the letter was advice that it had been forwarded to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Winston Peters. It is sad that Jacinda herself did not feel sufficient desire to answer the appeal especially since, even though her Foreign Affairs Minister has consequently been written to with a request for a response there has, to date, been no answer from him. Last year it took Winston over a month to send us a bland and mealy-mouthed reply that expressed little genuine humanitarian concern. We must, nonetheless, still hope that he will yet respond to the PSNA with the humanitarianism and respect for international law that the Palestinian people rightly deserve!